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migraine headache

What does it feel like to have a migraine headache?

What are migraine headaches?

Migraine headache is a throbbing, often one-sided headache that can be worsened by routine physical activity. Sensitivity to light and sound may accompany the headache. Moreover, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to odors can also occur. About 30% of migraine sufferers report an aura. It is a sensory disturbance that appears as flashing lights, shimmering lines, or a temporary loss of vision that precedes the onset of pain. The occurrence of headaches can remain from 4 to 72 hours. Nevertheless, effective migraine treatment can help relieve the symptoms and prevent complications.

Migraine headaches are more widespread in women than in men. The majority of people with this brain disease are between 15 and 55 years old, although children as young as six can also have them. 10% of the global population has had migraine attacks lasting an hour or more at some point during their lives. One in ten may develop chronic head pains, which is defined as 15 or more attacks a month. However, only about one in 20 migraine sufferers seeks medical attention for their pain.

What are the symptoms of migraine?

Migraine symptoms can vary from one person to the next. In most cases, a person with a severe headache may have at least five of these symptoms during an attack-

  • A painful or uncomfortable sensation in one area of the head; it may feel like throbbing.
  • It is common for migraine attacks to begin with a prodrome (warning) that may include mood changes or an increase in thirst and appetite.

During the headache phase, people may experience nausea along with vomiting. Other symptoms may include-

  • Increased sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Heightened sensitivity to sound (phonophobia)
  • Elevated sensation to touch (tactile phonophobia)
  • Decreased ability to speak (mutism)

Other people experience euphoria during a migraine attack, contributing to the lack of self-diagnosis in young women. Migraine treatment can help relieve the symptoms. However, headaches may occur at any time.


The prodrome phase is a stage when people experience symptoms that can occur hours or days before an actual headache. These symptoms may include-

  • Food cravings
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • Urination
  • Worsening of existing PMS issues, including fatigue, irritability, depression, and confusion

Onset – The onset of migraine varies from person to person. However, attacks can start at any age, from childhood to very advanced age.


Migraine is usually worse during the aura phase, which can occur with or without a headache. During this stage, sufferers may experience-

  • Visual changes (seeing zigzag lines or flashing lights)
  • Extreme light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • Deadness
  • Dizziness
  • A heightened sense of smell (hyperosmia)

Migraine without aura

About 75% of people with migraines have migraines without aura. These people may have warning signs called auras. However, they are not always present. Auras can include visual changes such as seeing flashing or shimmering lights or a temporary loss of vision. Other auras may include sensory or speech disturbances, weakness, or difficulty with movement and balance. Nevertheless, your doctor may recommend suitable migraine treatment to ease the irritating signs.

Migraine with aura

When migraines occur with auras, symptoms usually last from 5 minutes to an hour before the actual headache begins. Migraine auras usually develop gradually over 5 to 20 minutes but sometimes can happen rapidly. Symptoms of such uneasiness include temporary vision changes, tingling or numbness on one side of the face or body, confusion, difficulty speaking and understanding speech, trouble concentrating, and drowsiness.

Headache phase (during an attack)

Migraine pain occurs as moderate to severe throbbing that usually affects only one side of the head but can occur on both sides. The pain may be steady and throbbing or pulsing. Moreover, it may worsen with physical activity during the day.

  • Pain

Migraine pain is usually throbbing or pulsing in nature, but it can also be a steady and intense headache. It can affect one area of the head or feel like a band of pressure that wraps around the head.

  • Nausea and vomiting

Vomiting along with nausea are common symptoms of migraine attacks. Vomiting may occur during or after a headache attack. Take your migraine treatment as soon as possible when you are hit by an episode of headache. They may help relieve the symptoms.

  • Photophobia and phonophobia

Migraine sufferers often have very sensitive eyes and report feelings of pain when exposed to light, especially the glare from bright lights or sunlight. Similarly, they can also become quite sensitive to sound. Symptoms of photophobia and phonophobia usually peak in severity during the aura phase.

  • Dizziness and vertigo

Dizziness is common during both aura and migraine phases. Vertigo can also occur. It is an intense feeling that you or your environment are spinning (or moving), similar to feeling as if you are on a boat in rough water.

  • Extreme fatigue

Some people experience extreme fatigue during an attack. This extreme tiredness or exhaustion can last even after the headache is gone.

  • Sweating

Some people experience profuse sweating, especially if they have migraines with fever or vomiting.

  • Numbness and tingling

Numbness or tingling is often associated with migraine auras. Deadness in the face or arms and legs or one side of the body is more common than insensitivity in both sides of the body.

  • Weakness

Migraine attacks can also cause a feeling of weakness on one side of your body, both at the onset of an attack and during severe headaches. This is known as hemiplegic migraine. However, migraine treatment, including medications, can lend you a hand in overcoming the uneasiness.

  • Difficulty speaking

Aphasia is a specific type of language dysfunction that occurs with people having severe headaches. During an episode of aphasia, you may have difficulty speaking or understanding speech. It can last from several minutes to hours after the headache phase has ended.

  • Visual disturbances

Visual disturbances are most often associated with migraines occurring with an aura. Visual disturbances can be described as zigzag lines, spots, or flashes of light that may be in one specific spot or spread out across your visual field.

  • Vision loss

Some types of migraine auras can involve blindness on one side or both sides of the visual field. It is known as retinal migraine or amaurosis fugax.

Postdrome phase

You will typically feel the effects of this brain disease for several hours after an attack has ended. However, in some cases, you may have symptoms that last for days afterward. These are known as postdrome symptoms.

  • Fatigue

Severe fatigue is common during and after an attack because they often interfere with your normal sleep patterns.

  • Depression or anxiety

Episodes of severe headaches can sometimes trigger depression or increased feelings of anxiety, especially in people with a history of depression. Moreover, the attacks may make you feel irritable, and this feeling of irritability can last long after the stage has ended.

  • Nausea

Nausea is not uncommon during the postdrome phase of a migraine attack. Immediately consume migraine treatment if you experience such symptoms. It may help get rid of the frustrating signs.

  • Food craving

Many migraine sufferers crave salty foods during the recovery phase. It may happen due to the effects of dehydration associated with throbbing headaches, possibly triggering a desire for salty food. Some people also report an increased appetite during this period.

  • Drowsiness

Migraine attacks can easily disrupt your normal sleep pattern, which often causes you to feel drowsy after a throbbing headache.

  • Confusion

Confusion or difficulty thinking is not surprising during the postdrome phase. This symptom usually resolves soon after it begins and can be very frightening if you don’t know what’s happening.

What are the causes of migraines?

The accurate cause of migraines remains mysterious. However, current theories suggest that they may be due to genetic and environmental factors and altered brain activity. Serotonin imbalances, hormone fluctuations, and dietary factors are all thought to influence susceptibility to migraines. People with such brain disease may usually be sensitive to sounds, smells, or other stimuli that do not bother most people. Moreover, stress may also play a role in triggering attacks, but so can lack of sleep, menstruation, and certain foods.

Migraine treatment can help relieve headache symptoms. However, it may occur at sudden times. Not everyone with migraine headaches experiences “aura,” and not everyone with aura experiences headache. Some women report migraine attacks triggered by hormonal changes, particularly during menstruation or pregnancy. In many cases, however, the cause of pulsating headaches remains a mystery.

What factors can trigger migraine attacks?

The following are some of the most common triggers for pulsating headaches-

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional upsets
  • Noise, odors, or bright lights that are too intense
  • Changes in sleep patterns

Other potential migraine triggers include-

  • Alcohol

Alcohol, including red wine, beer, and hard liquor, may elicit severe head pains. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of headaches. Wine and beer, in particular, contain chemicals that some people’s bodies cannot process without producing migraines.

  • Caffeine

That pounding headache you get when the caffeine wears off? It could be a sign that your body is addicted to caffeine. If you are not a regular coffee drinker and all of a sudden, your body needs caffeine, this could trigger severe head pain. Nevertheless, taking caffeine in a limited and beneficial amount can support your migraine treatment.

  • Foods

Some foods are more likely to cause headaches than others are. These include aged cheeses, processed meats like pepperoni and salami, soy products, monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, red wine, chocolate, nuts, and peanut butter.

  • Hormonal changes

Changing estrogen levels may trigger migraine attacks in women who are susceptible to pulsating headaches. The best way to determine the relationship between estrogen fluctuations and attacks is by keeping a diary of your menstrual cycle and noting any migraine symptoms.

What can help in migraine treatment?

A combination of lifestyle shifts and medications can work well in the treatment of migraines. Although there is no cure for throbbing headaches, it is possible to manage your symptoms with professional care.

Your first step should be to consult a neurologist who can diagnose your condition and recommend the best course of treatment. You may not be able to prevent all of your attacks. However, a suitable treatment plan will help you regain control of your life by reducing the total number of attacks and their severity.


The two most popular types of medications used to treat migraines are-

  • Triptans

These drugs work by constricting blood vessels and stopping the release of pain-causing substances in the brain. Triptans are most effective when taken immediately after the onset of migraine symptoms. They can be used either alone or in combination with other drugs, such as NSAIDs. Possible side effects include-

  • Temporary chest pain and tightness
    • Dizziness
    • Nausea
  • NSAIDs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are usually used in combination with other drugs. They work by reducing prostaglandins levels, substances that can trigger inflammation and pain in blood vessels. The possible side effects of NSAIDs are-

  • Nausea
    • Stomach upset
    • Increased risk of bleeding

Prevention Medication

Preventive migraine treatment is usually taken daily and helps decrease the frequency and severity of attacks.

  • Antidepressants

These drugs work by affecting serotonin levels, a brain chemical that plays a role in migraine headache pain. However, their possible side effects include-

  • Dry mouth
    • Nausea
    • Weight gain
    • Sexual dysfunction
  • Anti-seizure drugs

These medications work by stabilizing electrical activity in the brain. They are generally used if you have more than two migraine attacks a month. Possible side effects include-

  • Dizziness
    • Drowsiness
    • Nausea
    • Weight gain
  • Beta-blockers

These medications may be prescribed as a preventative measure if you have migraines accompanied by heart palpitations, high blood pressure, or sweating. Possible side effects can be as follows-

  • Fatigue
    • Cold hands and feet
    • Depression
    • Insomnia
    • Impotence
    • Shortness of breath
  • Calcium channel blockers

Doctors typically prescribe these medications for people who experience migraine symptoms during physical activity. Side effects include-

  • Fatigue
    • Headache
    • Dizziness
    • Sexual dysfunction
  • Anti-nausea medications

These drugs help prevent nausea and vomiting associated with migraine attacks. Side effects may include drowsiness or restlessness. These drugs can significantly reduce the number of attacks you experience and improve your quality of life. However, you will still need to be aware of your triggers to avoid an attack.

How do medications manage symptoms in migraine treatment?

If you take medication early in an attack, it will help relieve symptoms quickly. It is best to wait at least one hour after the onset of migraine symptoms before taking any medication.

Most migraine medications come in tablet or capsule form. Therefore, it is significant to take the correct dose. Some drugs are available over-the-counter. It means you can buy them without a prescription, while others require a doctor’s approval. If your doctor prescribes a medication, make sure you use the correct dosage. In the event of an overdose, call your doctor or local poison control center immediately.

What should you avoid?

If certain foods or medications trigger severe headaches for you, be sure to avoid them when taking one of these drugs. For example, triptans and ergotamines contain sulfites, which can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Taking these medications with alcohol or birth control pills containing estrogen can also worsen your symptoms. Let your doctor know about any other drugs you may be taking (including over-the-counter ones) along with the migraine treatment. It may help avoid any dangerous interactions.

When should you call your doctor?

If the migraine medication is not helping your symptoms, contact your doctor. If you only get relief after taking a particular medication or combination of drugs, continue taking them until your next scheduled appointment with your doctor. It is crucial to be checked out if you are experiencing any side effects from the drugs, even if they seem minor.